Pro-Donald Trump fake news dominated Facebook in the months leading up to the presidential election in early November. An analysis by BuzzFeed last month found that fake news stories related to the election did better on Facebook than real news stories from August through Election Day. This week, Craig Silverman, an expert on fake news and media editor for BuzzFeed who wrote the false news story explained why people buy news that is bogus.
Speaking with Dave Davies on the NPR radio show Fresh Air, Silverman said that many of the fake stories that ran wild across Facebook leading up to the election were created by teenagers living in Macedonia who wanted to turn a profit from the anti-Clinton and pro-Trump sentiments that were circulating well on Facebook. Many of the stories were obviously false (such as a claim that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS), yet people believed what these teens were selling.
Silverman told Davies that "there's no question that these fake stories resonated with people. There's no question that they saw them and they shared them or they commented on them and they liked them, and that created tremendous velocity on Facebook. And a lot of people saw them, and that's a really surprising thing and it's a distressing thing."
Silverman also said that people like to read things that confirm existing opinions on both sides of the political aisle, telling Davies: "And for the [Facebook] pages that were partisan pages on the right and the left, if you had stuff that really appealed to people's existing beliefs, even if it completely bent the truth, that would perform much better than a sort of purely factual thing."
In response to the fake and misleading news that bombarded social media have also come stories that disprove fake trending stories. However, Silverman said that these stories work against the psychology that's at play when people read and believe fake news. "[W]hen you come in as the debunker," Silverman said, "What you're doing is actively going against information that people are probably already, willing to believe and that gets them emotionally. And to tell somebody 'I'm sorry that thing you saw and shared is not true' is you coming in in a very negative way unfortunately."